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Customer Service Moments of Truth

A lot has been written about customer service over the years and most of it is true.  We have all read and, most importantly, learned the significance of customer service excellence from our own experiences.  It really does make a difference in the performance of distribution businesses.

Important Truths

We have used this over and over again: "You never get a 2nd chance to make a good 1st impression."  In any distribution business, that first impression starts with the first phone call, the first visit to your web site, the booth at the trade show, your Linked-In company profile, your magazine ads, drive into your parking lot, or any other place where you, as a company, are visible and active.  For everything you need to ask the question, how is this informing or helping my customer or potential customer?  How am I providing a service in whatever I am presenting or doing? What value is my organization providing during that first impression?

It was once said that, "Every time a service organization performs for a particular customer, the customer makes an assessment of the quality of the service, even if unconsciously.  The sum total of the repeated assessments by the customer and the collective assessments by all customers establish in their minds the organization's image in terms of the service quality."

The worst thing that can happen to a distributor is not a failure, but rather how the distributor reacts to a failure.  It is clear that a customer service problem that is resolved quickly and to the complete satisfaction of the customer will solidify the relationship with the customer. But this is not an area where repetition is good. Reducing the number of customer service problems should be the goal.  According to Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke in Service America, written many years ago, but still valid today:

"Of the customers who register a complaint, between 54% and 70% will do business again with the organization if their complaint is resolved. That figure goes up to a staggering 95% if the customer feels that the complaint was resolved quickly"

If the customer is not satisfied, research finds that, "The average customer who has had a problem with an organization tells 9 to 10 people about it.  13% of people who have a problem with an organization recount the incident to more than 20 people."  These numbers can be exponentially higher with today's multiplicity of interactive communication options.

Changed Environment

According to a Business Week article, "It's never been easier for customers to find the opinions of others to validate their product and service choices."  Today's buyers have the entire Internet, filled with evaluations, assessments, and commentary that provides others with the ability to find out about you and your products.  Distributors today cannot hide.  If your service to customers is not 100% all the time, someone, someplace will be talking and/or writing about it for the entire world to know.  That's scary!

In a recent Citrix white paper entitled, Improving Customer Retention and Satisfaction by Delivering Exceptional Customer Support, they stated:

"In today's connected world, a bad opinion about service can be amplified quickly. In fact, customers are likely to share a bad experience with many others via word of mouth and virally, through social networks and service evaluation sites. Research conducted by Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management on the influence of social media found there is a measurable connection between what is being said about a product in online posts and real time customer behavior and sales."

Many may discount this as "consumer environment," however, don't.  The emerging, continually connected consumer today is the same person that works for your customer.  The knowledge tools, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc., they use personally are often the same they will use to evaluate your products and service.

How to Fail

In the book, The Service Advantage, Albrecht and Bradford talk about:

 "A moment of truth ... that precise instant when the customer comes into contact with any aspect of your business and, on the basis of that contact, forms an opinion about the quality of your service and potentially, the quality of your product."

You make promises every day with your customers and potential customers.  Fulfilling those promises are the "moments of truth" for your customers. It's OK to be out of stock, but don't sell something and then call later and tell the customer you are out-of-stock or, worse yet, don't decide to not call at all and fail to deliver.  This is where failure happens.  Your key to success is making certain this never happens by focusing your entire organization on making sure every promise is kept all the time.

Empowering People

We heard the other day these ten, two-letter words that I believe says it all, "If it is to be, it is up to me." If your organization has this service attitude, magic can happen.  To have this attitude they must be empowered to act and be trained to act to the benefit of the customer and in turn your organization.  Training is critical.  It is a process, not an event and therefore needs to be on-going.

Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke, Service America said,

"If a company that is supposed to be operating in a service industry has a department called 'The Customer Service Department,' what are all the other departments supposed to be doing?  Might it be that having a customer service department signals to the other people in the company that the customer is being properly looked after, and that they need not concern themselves with the matter?  Shouldn't the entire organization be one large customer service department, at least figuratively speaking?"

How to make it Happen

In this ever changing environment, the Owner, President, or CEO is the key to customer service success.  Troops take direction from the leader.  If customer service is a top down imperative, if keeping the promises you make at all levels of the organization is mandatory, outstanding customer service will occur. The CEO must focus on infusing this culture across the organization.

Beyond the strategy, there are 3 key tactics for success: people, processes and technology.  Perhaps Glenn Dobson of Citrix said it best,

"Companies with the most effective, loyalty-inducing customer service equip their representatives with the tools and skills to resolve problems."

The skills come from training and experience.  The tools are the vast array of technology that can be deployed.  The goal is to have a "consistent" experience across the many points of entry to your company.  Some of the customer service tools that need to be consistent and that all distributors should either be using or considering include:

  • Live Chat
  • Push to Talk
  • Video Product Demonstrations
  • Live On-line Demonstrations
  • Phone Conferencing
  • Video Phone Calls and Conferencing
  • Email Communications
  • Customer Relationship Management Solutions (CRM)
  • Knowledge Sharing Systems
  • Web Site and eCommerce

 

The keys to customer satisfaction success are: to utilize technology that will help you know your customer; technology that lets the customer know you; interactive communication systems; and adaptability to change rapidly as new systems and processes evolve, because they will!

In a recent Customer Relationship Management magazine article titled, The Next 15 Years of CRM, they stated that,

"Advances in people, process and technology over the past 15 years have helped make customer relationships deeper and more meaningful.  But the next 15 years will deliver innovation at a much faster pace and organizations will only survive by embracing meaningful two-way dialogue with increasingly mobile customers."

Conclusion

In one of the Customer Service classics, by Carl Sewell & Paul B. Brown, Customers for Life, they say,

"If you're good to your customers, they'll keep coming back because they like you.  If they like you, they'll spend more money.  If they spend more money, you want to treat them better.  And, if you treat them better, they keep coming back and the circle starts again." 

Yesterday, today and tomorrow's successful distributor exists because of their focus on the service they perform for their customers. The difference then, now and tomorrow are the tools and the application of those tools to the company's processes.  You should be assessing your technology to determine how well it helps your people in developing deeper and more meaningful relationships with your customers. Rest assured, your best competitors are looking at ways to improve their relationships with customers. Some of those customers might be yours!

One final quote comes from an ad that Bill Marriott ran many years ago and is ever more meaningful today.  This lends itself to most any business and certainly to any distributor.

More than flashy architecture

More than razzle-dazzle décor

More than culinary fireworks

More than triple sheeted beds

A business traveler needs one simple thing

Service, the ultimate luxury

It begins the moment you call

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